Americans increasingly are turning to overseas destinations in their search for affordable places to retire. The prospect of living comfortably for less and seeing more of the world pushes many to ponder becoming expats. There are, of course, many factors to consider before making the move abroad, including language, safety, and contact with loved ones back in the United States. But for many nearing or in retirement, cost of living is a top concern. With that in mind, here are some of the cheapest and most appealing international retirement locales, spanning the globe.
To compile this list, Cheapism consulted the top destinations in the 2017 Global Retirement Index from International Living. We looked especially at cost of living and housing in the highest-scoring locales. The other categories included in the index are benefits and discounts, visas and residence, "fitting in," entertainment and amenities, health care, healthy lifestyle, infrastructure, and climate.
With an International Living rating of 97 out of 100 in both cost of living and renting and buying (housing), Nicaragua emerges as a top cheap retirement destination. The magazine suggests San Juan del Sur, a surf town with ocean beaches, as well as up-and-coming Matagalpa. Swimming and boating are big local activities on Lake Nicaragua. The nearby airport in Managua can get American retirees back to U.S. soil in two hours. The country earns a final score of 83.6 in International Living's Global Retirement Index, placing it No. 8 overall.
For many retiring Americans, heading to Mexico makes a lot of financial sense. It's International Living's overall winner, with a score of 90.9 and similarly high scores for housing (94) and cost of living (89). Retiring in Mexico is convenient, with flights back to the United States both affordable and quick. Expats love the beaches as well as the cheap, delicious cuisine, shopping, and historical attractions. International Living cites Lake Chapala and the Riviera Maya as retirement meccas and says Americans can live well for about $1,200 a month.
Colombia is a modern country that's becoming increasingly popular as a prime retiree destination, according to International Living. An inviting cultural scene, warm weather (not much seasonal change), and a diverse natural landscape with more than 50 national parks, along with beaches, jungles, and deserts, make for an ideal retirement venue. With inexpensive properties and a low cost of living, many Americans can live an upscale lifestyle without being "USA-rich." Colombia scores high 80s and 90s in almost every category, achieving a total score of 87.7 -- good enough for fifth place. ¡Vaya a Colombia!
Ecuador is another popular spot for retirement. Live and Invest Overseas perennially sings the praises of the city of Cuenca, citing the low cost of real estate, walkability, burgeoning expat community, and cheap but reliable health care. International Living adds Quito, Cotacachi, and Salinas to the list of expat havens. Ecuador scores 97 in buying and renting, 99 in benefits and discounts, 100 in climate (no surprise there), and 92 in healthy lifestyle, among other stellar scores, making it No. 3 overall with an average of 90.7.
Americans' retirement savings can go a long way in Malaysia. It takes the sixth spot on the International Living index, with scores of 89 and 87 in housing and cost of living, respectively. It also earns a 97 in health care and a 95 in entertainment and amenities. The website Malaysia My Second Home cites other key reasons to retire in the country, including political/economic stability, low crime, inexpensive food, wide-ranging sports, plentiful retail shops, and good infrastructure.
Panama presents another excellent choice for budget-friendly retirement. Health care, perfectly mild weather, and affordable lifestyle -- all are noteworthy, but according to International Living, it's the ease of living in Panama that makes it so appealing. The site's Panama editor cites reliable cellphone and internet connections as part of the draw. The Global Retirement Index ranks Panama second overall, with a final score of 90.8. Cost of living is ranked 82, while buying and renting rates 87. Panama also earns 100 in benefits and discounts and 96 in visas and residence.
Ranking fourth overall on International Living's index is exciting, diverse Costa Rica. It scores 97 in healthy lifestyle, 80 in cost of living, and 89 in housing, and also achieved high scores in entertainment, health care, and fitting in, earning 87.9 overall. Slightly smaller than West Virginia, this tiny nation boasts Pacific and Caribbean beaches, lush rainforests, mountains, and valleys, each with individualized climates -- something for everyone, and plenty of opportunity to explore. The climate and environmental conditions prompt many residents to grow their own vegetables and fruits, or buy them cheaply from local farmers.
Although Mexico ranks número uno on International Living's retirement index, some argue that Portugal is the best destination for retirees. The publisher of Live and Invest Overseas notes that foreign retirement income is not taxed and English is widely spoken. She particularly recommends the Algarve region, on the south coast. Ranked among the top 10 destinations for retirees by International Living, with a score of 83.1 overall, Portugal is worth a second look. It scored 82 for cost of living and 84 for housing.
With ratings of 85 in housing and 78 in cost of living, Spain (which comes in at 84.8 and seventh overall) might be an unexpected but attractive international destination for retirees on tight budgets. International Living singles out the eastern, coastal city of Valencia as a particular bargain. Expats have access to excellent, cheap health care, open-air food markets with inexpensive wares, and easy, affordable getaways in neighboring European nations.
This archipelago of five islands in the Mediterranean Sea has long been a favorite spot for American retirees. Malta ranks in the top 10 on International Living's retirement index, with ratings of 77 and 79 in cost of living and housing, respectively, and an overall score of 81.7. It boasts gorgeous beaches, plentiful sunshine, a high standard of health care, low taxes, historic sites to explore, low crime -- the list goes on. Malta is conveniently located for easy trips to the surrounding regions of Europe and North Africa, as well as gorgeous neighboring islands such as Sicily and Corsica. English is one of two official state languages and spoken by most inhabitants.